Family Secret disclosure can be a hard issue when you are writing your memoirs.
I came across this article on guilt-culture and shame-culture and I found it very thought provoking in how it related to my memoir writing activities and constant question of ‘should I tell or shouldn’t I’.
Family Secrets and Shame
Sarah White, an American memorist, discusses an article called Shame or Guilt? by David Brooks, an American columnist. Sarah talks about writing family history and the topic that straightens our backs and tenses our muscles – Family Skeletons in the Closet. We all have them and the subject creates a mind-struggle when it comes to writing our memoirs – do we include family secrets or don’t we? Do we assign blame to our skeletons or attribute them to ‘just families’ and let time leave them where they belong, dying a slow death. Although if we were honest, I think we would have to say that we love to be included in those hushed discussions on someone’s inappropriate activity.
In recent years, I remember hearing my mother and aged aunt laughing over the indiscretion of my great aunt in her many visitors to her bed when they all lived in a 2-bed house. They talked about how terrible it was and how no towns people should know. Time and modern customs have tempered their perspectives on the poor great aunt, although the thought did occur to me were they shamed, feeling guilty or perhaps even envious?
Certainly the ‘family face’ was the key factor. It was important for them to be seen as good solid community people and they cared about their social standing. They didn’t want to be shamed or to be thought guilty of anything regardless of the reality of the situation. When I started writing family memoirs, there was immense conflict within my family about what I would write and reveal.
White talks about the difference between guilt and shame when we think about our family skeletons and how society since the war has changed society’s view on what should or should not be covered up. Andy Crouch in his article on The Return of Shame also offers his view on social media and the public demonstration of our private lives and our need for public approval. He says social media is reintroducing shame to society on a much larger scale if our post is not liked or we become a victim of bullying.
It has stimulated me to think about family values and what are the lessons I should be passing onto future generations to support them in their decision-making and should I tell or shouldn’t I .
Social Media a game changer in family secrets
Brooks has offered the view that ‘social media is a game-changer on the guilt-shame playing field’. He feels people have traded their personal values and standards for ‘a desire for popularity and inclusion’ with the intense and relentless addiction to social media and its ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. Society’s fabric has been changed and he says we now live in a world on constant display and we crave community approval from crowds we don’t even know, almost like our 5 seconds of fame.
Certainly, within my own community culture, things of shame that were once are no longer. In today’s world, many issues are discussed openly and honestly and I find there are less ‘skeleton’s in the cupboard’ than in my forebearers time.
It doesn’t help me though when I come to consider my own situation on full disclosure of family secret’s in my memoir writing – should I tell or shouldn’t I.
I still don’t feel that everyone has a right to know everything about me and my family’s inner place – but could that information on my mother’s temper and my grandfather’s alcohol activities matter to a descendant.
This is also a time of legal challenges becoming more probable, even in Australia.
It is food for thought and I constantly remind myself that society’s fabric changes constantly, if not slowly in some circles.
John Boyd Orr offers this quote
‘When the fabric of society is so rigid that it cannot change quickly enough, adjustments are achieved by social unrest and revolutions.”
**The fabric of society or social fabric relates to threads woven into our society that holds us together and make us function as a whole. Communication, social standards, family values, education, ethnic composition, employment rates and financial all influence the fabric of the society in which we live. A right or left government or an active minority interest group can alter the social fabric of a culture.